Who does angst better than Radiohead? The renowned English band has come a long way from their school days in Oxfordshire. As the poster boys for gloomy yet experimental rock music, the band—consistently made up of Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, and Phil Selway—is one of the few 90s acts to keep their sound relevant into the digital age. Call the Karma Police on these 42 edgy facts about Radiohead.
1. Who Needs School When You Have Sound?
All five members of Radiohead attended the Abingdon School in Oxfordshire, England. Music was their solace from the strict environment of the academy. Their “collective,” as they called it, got them trouble by the headmaster for using a spare room just to practice.
2. The Giving Tree
Their eighth album, King of Limbs, draws its title from an ancient tree in the Savernake Forest of Wiltshire. It was nearby that mysterious wood Radiohead recorded “In Rainbows.”
3. Magically Musical
Do Phil Selway and Johnny Greenwood have doppelgangers in the Potterverse? In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, these two Radiohead members (alongside Jarvis Cocker) play The Weird Sisters, a popular band in Potter’s world of magic.
4. Never Too Young to Provide Backup
While the band stayed in an American hotel, a loud group of schoolchildren with instruments passed by the building. Thom Yorke ran outside to record the kids, thereby providing the opening moments of the track “The Bends.”
5. Back to Basics
Thom Yorke’s vocals in “Planet Tex” were recorded while the singer lay down with his back to the floor. He was very drunk on wine.
6. Sargent Yorke’s Lonely Hearts Club
The lyrics for “Creep” were inspired by Thom Yorke’s romantic rejection from a girl at the University of Exeter. Of course, the use of “rejected” might be flexible: Yorke had barely talked to the woman. He only followed her around for a few days. Years later, the lover-who-never-was showed actually showed up at a Radiohead concert, which absolutely mortified Yorke.
7. Telephone Games
Radiohead’s breakout album Pablo Honey draws its title from The Jerky Boys, a 1990s prank-call TV program. In one “iconic” joke, a caller utters “Pablo, honey? Please come to Florida.” This audio bit is sampled in the song, “How Do You.”
8. His Own Worst Critic
Thom Yorke is notoriously critical about many of Radiohead’s biggest hits. Most notably, he has used the word “ dreadful” to describe “High and Dry.”
9. Brevity is the Soul of Hits
Before it was OK Computer¸ this Radiohead album was going to be titled Your Home May Be at Risk If You Do Not Keep Up Payments.
10. Encounter with the Beast
The elegant image of a “kicking, screaming, Gucci little piggy,” as sung by Thom Yorke in “Paranoid Android,” refers to an incident he had in a bar. Yorke accidentally spilled his drink upon a woman, who then got “a look [in her] eyes that I’d never seen before anywhere.” Her look haunted Yorke into the night, and he couldn’t sleep a wink.
11. Bigger is Better
Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood got into a competition to see how many chords they could jam into a song. As a result, the track “Just” was born.
12. Honesty is The Best Policy
Radiohead admitted to lifting the melody and chord progression in “Creep” from another band’s. Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood’s “The Air I Breathe” from 1972 bears a striking similarity to “Creep.” Radiohead agreed and gave Hammond and Hazelwood co-writing credits, plus a share of the royalties to their breakout hit.
The older singers were willing to sue for more, but they agreed to settle because at least Radiohead was honest about their theft.
13. Share the Love, Not the Credit
Extending the litigious history of “Creep,” Radiohead took action against Lana Del Ray in 2018 for her song “Get Free.” The band argued Del Ray’s track plagiarized their (admittedly part-plagiarized) song and demanded 100% of the royalties, turning down Del Rey’s offer of 40%. During a March 2018 performance, Del Ray told her audience that the lawsuit was over, so, “I guess I can sing that song anytime I want.”
14. Save the Date and the Band
The band draws its name from the Talking Heads track, “Radio Head.” Of course, well before then, they went by the name On a Friday. The name referenced the day in which they would practice every week while attending school in Oxfordshire.
15. These Trees Are Fake, But His Tears Are Real
Thom Yorke burst into tears after recording “Fake Plastic Trees” in three takes. The song was completed after a very angsty and troubling day at their studio. The producer had even sent the band away after Yorke screamed at everybody.
16. Keep Calm and Dissipate Completely
The chorus of “How to Disappear Completely” was inspired by anti-anxiety counseling given by Michael Stipe of the band R.E.M. to Thom Yorke. The Radiohead frontman had been struggling with his emotions during the tour; his colleague’s mantra of ‘I’m not here, this isn’t really happening” supposedly helped with that, in addition to being a neat lyric.
17. Sound Mixers Have Feelings Too, Cher
The character of Cher in the movie Clueless was not a fan of “Fake Plastic Trees,” which made one of its first pop culture cameos in the 1990s movie. Her review: “Yuck! Ugh—the maudlin music of the university station. What is it about college and crybaby music?” Ouch.
18. One Creep is Enough
“My Iron Lung” is about how Radiohead hated replaying their other song “Creep.” To quote the angsty lyrics: “Suck, suck your teenage thumb / Toilet trained and dumb / When the power runs out, we’ll just hum / This, this is our new song / Just like the last one / A total waste of time, my iron lung.” Consider the song’s omnipresence to this day, we can’t say we blame Radiohead.
19. Catch This Sick Sound
Jonny Greenwood began his long-time fixation with the ondes Martenot, a peculiar instrument that caught his attention after listening to Olivier Messiaen’s “Turangalila Symphony.” Naturally, the tool made its way into some of Radiohead’s albums, most notably on Kid A and Amnesiac.
20. To The Next Generation
The band members of Radiohead have a penchant for turning their kids into singles…or rather dedicating certain songs to their children. “Hail to the Thief” was dedicated to Jonny Greenwood’s firstborn son, Tamir; “Amnesiac” is a shout-out to Thom Yorke’s son, Noah.
21. Zzzzz On This Idea
Drop the Z: originally, the title track for their album The Bends was going to be named “The Benz.” For some reason, they found this not-so-clever and went for the proper spelling.
22. Pre-Afternoon Delight
According to Thom York, the experience of “sex in the morning” is what inspired their song “Black Star.” Of course, he only considers morning “the best time to have it” if “you’ve cleaned your teeth beforehand.”
23. Half-Hearted Goodbye
According to some people, if you play the closing, barely intelligible vocals of the song “Daydreaming” backward, you’ll hear Thom Yorke singing “Half of my life,” or “I’ve found my love, “or “Every minute, half my love” over and over again. It’s worth noting that while recording this song, Yorke had recently split up with his partner of 23 years, Rachel Owens. He was then 47 years old—hence “half of life.”
24. A Long-Awaited Coda
Thom Yorke recorded “True Love Waits” right after marrying his then-wife, Rachel Owens. However, the song didn’t appear on a Radiohead album until A Moon Shaped Pool…shortly after the end of their 23-year-long marriage. It’s also worth noting the first lyric on that whole album is “Stay” while the last word on the last song is “Leave.”
25. Sorry, Wrong Robot Voice
According to lore, the song “Fitter Happier” from OK Computer was read by scientist Stephen Hawking himself. Alas, this cameo just an urban myth. Nevertheless, Radiohead did use the synthesized voice of Fred Cooper of Apple Macintosh’s SimpleText application—the same technology which gave Hawking his famous voice. We understand if people made the mistake.
26. Sing With the Stars
Radiohead produced most of OK Computer near a manor house in St. Catherine Court, owned by Jane Seymour—the British actress, not the third wife of Henry VIII.
27. Longer and Uncut? No Thanks
At 6 minutes and 27 seconds, no one would call “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead a short beat. Of course, the original cute was 14 minutes long and was going to include a 10-minute organ interlude from Jonny Greenwood. For the sake of our MP3 batteries, it’s a good thing they crawled back.
28. It’s Hard to Copy the Bard
Thom Yorke wrong “Exit Music (For a Film)” knowing it would be used in the soundtrack for Romeo And Juliet. Wanting to pay homage to the greats, he originally tried to incorporate lines of the Shakespeare play itself into the song. Naturally, this is easier said than done, so he settled for his own words.
29. Before There Was Siri…
Radiohead used AI to promote their album, Amnesiac. The first-ever “Active Buddy” chat program would interact with their fans via the AOL Messaging system, answering questions in their stead. We’re not sure how fans felt about Radiohead outsourcing their attention to this computer called “Googly Minotaur” …
30. Lay Down and Think About It
Experimental short film director Jamie Thraves filmed the infamous music video for Radiohead’s “Just.” In the video, a man lays down on the street and is asked by the crowd (through subtitles only) why he is lying down there. The man gives them an answer (edited so we can’t read his lips), at which point the subtitles are suspiciously dropped.
Cut to everyone lying down on the street next to him. What did he say!? Radiohead has told no one and neither has director Jamie Thraves. When asked, Thraves has simply answered, “To tell you would deaden the impact, and probably make you want to lie down in the road, too.”
31. The Problem With Being Posh
Despite the success it has brought Radiohead, Thom Yorke hates the sound of his own voice. He considers it “too polite” for their genre and therefore annoying to behold.
32. Good Boy!
Phil Selway ironically got the nickname “Mad Dog” from his band members for his notoriously polite manners.
33. The Biggest Head on the Radio
If, for some reason, you need to rack up the members of Radiohead in order of smallest to biggest, please remember that Ed O’Brien is the band’s tallest member. He is 6’2” tall. Use that info as you require.
34. The King of Queen
Thom Yorke cites Queen band member Brian May as his rock inspiration. He had only seen May on television, but that was enough to get him hooked on rock.
35. Dressed to Depress
While music kept Radiohead together during their school days, it was bad fashion which united them in the first place. Both Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood had a horrible sense of style, which made them stand out (in a bad way) at parties. Naturally, the eyesores gravitated towards each other and found they also shared a love of music.
To quote Yorke: “We always ended up at the same parties. He’d be wearing a beret and a catsuit, or something pretty weird and I’d be in a frilly blouse and crushed velvet dinner suit and we’d pass round the Joy Division records.”
36. Beep Me
Thom Yorke put his old pager number on the cover of Radiohead’s “Airbag” EP. Naturally, fans dialed the digits and got the privilege of being greeted by Yorke himself…albeit with a pre-recorded “Hello?” Still, it was Yorke’s own voice! While the band did receive every message, they no idea what to do with the fan recordings.
37. What’s Your Number?
In 2007, Radiohead released their album In Rainbows at the price of “pay-what-you-can.” Only 38% of initial downloaders paid anything at all. The rest paid out an average of £2.90 per album.
38. Putting the “Disc” in “Discomfit”
John Lennon’s The Plastic Ono Band was Thom Yorke’s primary influence while recording The Bends. Yorke loved Plastic Ono’s work because “it makes you feel really uncomfortable.”
39. Better Late Than Never
“Creep” and “Motion Picture Soundtrack” were written by Thom Yorke on the same day. However, the latter existed in many forms for years until it finally had its moment to shine as the last song on Kid A.
40. Don’t Miss These Sisters
Radiohead’s first gig was in 1987 at the Jericho Tavern in Oxford. Of course, back then, they were known as On a Friday and accompanied by two sisters on the saxophone.
41. It Takes Time to Creep On You
Before it was an angst rock sensation, “Creep” was a commercial failure. Radiohead’s ode to loners only gained traction after a San Francisco college DJ managed to pick up and make it an underground hit in the Bay Area.
42. Crash and Burn
Since 1987, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke has suffered from a chilling phobia that’s inspired many of the band’s songs. Yorke was involved in a horrible car crash that left his girlfriend at the time injured. While he walked away unscathed physically, the accident has weighed heavily on him since, inspiring a dire fear of cars and driving that inspired beloved songs like “Airbag,” “Stupid Car,” and “Killer Cars.”